“You will get bored of sea turtles” the appropriately named Darwin says as he outlines the week’s adventures aboard the Cachalote. Nods ripple around the group signalling agreement – it’s a risk we are prepared to take.
On day one of the Galapagos cruise our boat docks at Isla Rabida, a russet-sand beach supporting scrubland and thick, prickly cactus. Within minutes of jumping from the inflatable panga, someone shouts “SHARK!” This is a customary call for panic and yet I find myself swimming closer, each nerve tingling as I question my sanity. I reason; “if I stay with the group my chance of survival will increase”. Ten metres below three adult Galapagos sharks are circling, their smooth grey bodies rising higher and higher with each lap like vultures in thermals. The adrenaline in my veins mimics their movements, urging me to swim back to the boat, but I am transfixed. Our seemingly fearless guide is free-diving below us, surrounded by a 3.5 metre mass of curiosity that seems to have developed an unhealthy interest in his clear plastic fins. A stream of oxygen bubbles escape, rapidly making their way to the surface, before Darwin follows suit: “Wow, that was close” he gasps.
Further along the rugged bay, with the sharks at a respectful distance, I find myself face to face with a huge shoal of Black striped Salema. Thousands of tiny fish dart in unison, their humbug-striped bodies glistening as they are illuminated by the rays of sunlight above. As if startled, they disperse and the seabed reveals the rest of this underwater confectionary; brown chocolate chips appear to adorn the bright orange starfish, a coating of sugary sand sticks to the fuzzy sea cucumbers, iridescent fish glitter like shiny lollipops and beneath it all rests a giant, stingray shaped marshmallow.
When a sea lion joins me in the water I really feel like the kid in the proverbial candy shop. With its gaze fixed on mine, it puts on a dizzying display of acrobatics, twisting and spinning around me, at complete ease in the water. I try to copy its routine, albeit more clumsily, and we flip and tumble together, each as intrigued by the other.
Out of the water, basking sea lions seem to litter every part of the beach, snuffling, grunting, barking and honking to each other. At the landing site of Sombrero Chino, three Galapagos Hawks watch intently as a female sea lion carefully drags its new-born to the water, each laboured movement eliciting a mewing cry from the tiny pup. In the distance, waves crash on the shoreline causing fire-red Sally Lightfoot crabs to scatter across the black volcanic rocks. The wildlife curtain has only been up six hours and I’m already mesmerised by the theatre that plays out before me.
1,000 photos of penguins, sea lions, fur seals, Eagle rays, pelicans, Flightless cormorants, Blue-footed boobies, giant tortoise, Marine iguanas, flamingos, dolphins and Frigate birds later I find myself surrounded by Green and Leatherback turtles, just as Darwin predicted. I count 32 giant shells suspended in the salty water, each leathery face occasionally gliding to the surface to take a rasping breath of air.
“Am I bored yet?” I wonder to myself. “Never”, is my instant reply. How could I be whilst floating around the islands that changed the world?
Vicky joined The Galapagos Islands on board the Cachalote, a charming schooner. This first class motor-sailer yacht has eight air-conditioned twin and double cabins.